July is almost over and the Pacific Northwest has seen relatively few large and devastating wildfires compared to recent years. OPB’s Jason Sauls spoke with editor Lillian Mongeau Hughes Friday morning to discuss current firefighting efforts in the region.
Jason Sauls: Bring us up to speed on the current situation.
Lillian Mongeau Hughes: Firefighters have been focused on four main fires in the state. There’s the Bedrock Fire, east of Eugene. That’s burning on 8,100 acres and the smoke from it is causing air quality issues. There are also forest closure orders in place in the surrounding area. The Newell Road Fire has burned 61,000 acres in south-central Washington — Klickitat County, to be specific. There have been evacuations in place due to that blaze. It’s currently 71% contained. Fire crews are hoping to transfer management back to local resources on Sunday.
Hilary Franz, the commissioner of Washington Public Lands, says fires in Washington are burning about 80,000 acres.
Hilary Franz: You know, usually by this time we would have seen a number of fires, obviously, in Central and Eastern Washington, but not as many fires as we have seen in Western Washington. That usually comes later in the season, but we have really been all hands on deck in every corner.
Mongeau Hughes: The Golden Fire has been burning in Klamath County and has destroyed 48 residences in Bonanza. It also damaged fiber optic lines in neighboring Lake County, which disrupted 911 calls and internet service. It’s covering 2,100 acres right now and is 27% contained. There are Level 1 and 2 evacuation orders in place for that fire, which is still threatening nearly 300 structures. The Flat Fire in Curry County is burning 24,000 acres and is just 10% contained. There are Level 1 and 2 evacuation orders in place near that fire too.
Sauls: What else do we need to know about these fires?
Mongeau Hughes: Well, the Golden Fire is one of the smallest, but is doing a lot of damage to local infrastructure. I can only imagine there’s going to need to be a big focus on recovery once that fire is under control. That’s a lot of homes lost in a small town. And the U.S. Forest Service has approved using heavy equipment in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness area to fight the Flat Fire. Usually, crews can’t even use chainsaws to clear trails in protected wilderness. But this year they’ll set up a bulldozer line on a forest road in hopes of keeping the flames contained — that’s according to reporting by the Salem Statesman Journal.